Ever hear the saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail?”
Job creating businesses don’t materialize out of thin air–they have many needs and requirements and only move to communities that fit them. A community can’t be everything to everyone, and that is exactly why strategic planning is necessary.
Sounds logical, right? Yet, as a collective, Klamath acts like a stupid dog that runs after every tennis ball it sees, even bounding for the fake throws. This dog misses a lot, but does manage to catch a few by sheer luck.
Now imagine chaining ten of these dogs together and tossing balls all around them. They pull against their chains nipping at balls whizzing past, but can’t coordinate to catch any because they are pulling in different directions. That is the best metaphor to explain how Klamath’s posse of leaders operates. They don’t know enough about economic development to chart or stay with a course. They don’t know which opportunities to pursue, so they don’t seek any, and at that level of ignorance, can’t land any opportunities that drift past by happenstance.
This is all about policy, for it is policy-makers that decide what infrastructure investments to make, what marketing to undertake, and what administrative rules to adjust or eliminate to make investment probable. Our silly dogs are the County Commissioners, City Council, and our house and senate representatives. The biggest problem is they all are convinced they know what they are doing. They are constantly tripping over their own egos and dragging everyone down with them. The unfortunate people who work on economic development on their behalf can only go through the motions without any resources to actually land big companies. Such is the career of a scapegoat. Let’s peel the onion to see who is the most responsible.
Case in point: A couple years ago, Klamath Falls was on the short list for Facebook’s $180 million data center project. What’s a data center? It’s among the many information-age enterprises Klamath could recruit with a proactive approach. Every large company on the Internet needs locations to warehouse the data behind the website. You can’t put all that data in one place, because just like warehousing goods, it is more efficient to locate your goods closer to the people that want them. On the Internet, data is backed up, made redundant, and served regionally. This is the only way that someone in New York can receive the same performance when they search for a friend on Facebook as someone doing the same thing in San Francisco.
Facebook was seeking another data center location on the west coast. They needed:
1) A large industrial site they could build on without any road access or zoning issues. (Klamath almost had that, but Commissioner Switzer let his road manager, Stan Stickland, divert money away from the road extension he had previously promised to implement that was necessary to make the prime site accessible).
2) Advanced fiber-optic based telecommunications.
(Klamath almost had it, but failed to develop the last mile required for access–even with donated development and free federal money).
3) Electrical power.
(Pacific Power said they couldn’t meet the need with the existing cogeneration facility. Too bad Senator Whitsett led the charge in 2004 to block Citizen’s Power from installing a power plant in Bonanza that would have made it possible to land Facebook. Power access was the highest weighted issue that killed Klamath’s chances).
Facebook decided to move to Prineville, Oregon instead. Shortly after announcing, they chose to double the size of the project to over $360 million. The only project Klamath ever had remotely close to this magnitude was the Cogeneration Facility, which was funded with $309 million in government bonds and came online in 2000.
As Facebook was halfway through construnction of it’s facility, Apple purchased 160 acres next door with plans to build an apple data center in Prineville as well. Both companies estimate they will eventually build a combined 1.2 million quare feet of data center space there.
These projects led to worldwide notariety for Prineville, Redmond and Bend, attracting more businesses to move there and the real estate values to stabilize. Rather than a one-time construction project like a power facility, Prineville can expect to see a steady stream of construction employing locals in developing more data center space. An article in Computerworld characterized Prineville, “…a little community that’s on its way to becoming one of the largest data center locations in U.S.”
Other eastern Oregon towns have landed similar investments. Google built a huge data center in The Dalles in 2006. An Amazon subsidiary built a similarly super-sized facility in Boardman, and Rackspace is investing $100 million in a data center there as well.
Klamath Falls and Klamath County wouldn’t be having any economic or budget difficulties had Facebook chosen us, and it would have been so simple recruit them had we stayed the course begun in 1994 when efforts to improve the business climate through telecommunications hit full stride. The result was the Sykes call center in 1995. Even Sykes had told local officials they needed to keep working on infrastructure. As call centers moved to India, data centers became the next big deal, a fact abundantly evident to everyone except Klamath officials.
The City and County didn’t just not do nothing, they went out of their way to block efforts to improve our chances to develop alternative business opportunities. In many cases, all they needed to do was endorse a project or write a letter of support for a grant. Apparently, even those requests required too much thought and effort.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the City of Klamath Falls repeatedly worked in opposition to building last mile loops and closing gaps in area fiber optic telecommunications. People in the know simply gave up any hope of working with the City in a positive manner on such things.
During 2008 and 2009, billions of dollars were being given away under the federal “Economic Recovery Act” for telecommunications infrastructure investments. Al Switzer was approached directly and specifically to endorse a project to connect business sites to the regional fiber route. He refused when requested to do so both rounds. The other commissioners also did nothing. A consortium in Eugene applied to the same fund and was easily awarded $8 million.
At this point, its too late to catch up with other eastern Oregon communities in competition for data centers. That would once again be like chasing tennis balls while chained to stupid dogs. Prineville, Boardman, and the Dalles are too far ahead of us in both infrastructure and notariety. Some opportunities only come once, and we missed our chance in spite of so much writing on the wall. Ignorance, arrogance, and flat stupidity combined once again to relegate Klamath to a backwater economy.
The key question now is: have we learned enough from this series of mistakes to pull our collective heads from our asses? As Sir Edmond Burke famously said, “Those don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
How many opportunities must we miss? Political faults of this magnitude require fixing by the people. People must be able to recognize where the problem starts in order to implement a remedy. In sum, remember the following from this sad tale of recent history:
Sen. Whitsett killed the power. The City killed the telecommunications. The County killed the road access. The Klamath citizens lost hundreds of high paying job opportunities and countless ripples of expenditures through all industry sectors that would have resulted from so much construction. We lost prosperity because of these dipshits.
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